Downright smut to highbrow feminist literature

The good news if you like to read in the bath, is that despite all the talk of apps and i-whatevs, small-press womens mags are flourishing. Our readers review some recent titles.

Colourful, contemporary and challenging

Potentia magazine
The Netherlands
€5 plus shipping
I like glossy pages and colour in my magazines, and while I don’t like that gloss to showcase only infantilised articles about celebrities and dieting, Im unimpressed that some widely-distributed feminist magazines lack an appealing aesthetic, even though their content is subversive and inspiring. Enter Potentia: a glossy, colourful new English-language mag out of the Netherlands. The layout is slick, the photos large and well-aligned, the font choice contemporary.

Despite my initial cynicism at all things that look well put-together, Im impressed. I found myself reading all 96 pages out of pure interest rather than reviewer obligation. Its an interesting mix of trans, queer and hetero opinions, literature, music reviews, pop-culture references, political diatribes and straightforward fashion spreads. The feel is one that’s obviously alternative, yet palatable enough to hand to ones less subversive lady friends who would be suspicious of the zine look but want something more intelligent than todays typical magazine stack offerings.

Obviously alternative, yet palatable enough to hand to ones less subversive lady friends who would be suspicious of the zine look.

A few articles rankled my egalitarian ideals, such as Sophie Millers imperious assertions about the difference between strong women and actual feminists, but there were many that left me thoughtful and intrigued, such as the JJ Levins photo series Gender and the prom which turns the hetero prom stereotype on its head. I respect a magazine that both angers and inspires me.



Great idea, hopefully with polish to follow

Syzygy magazine Issue 1 coverSyzygy magazine
Portland, USA
$US9 in hard copy, $US7 in PDF
Syzygy is a purse-sized digest of explicit man-on-man stories illustrated with original photography. Although edited by a bloke, Syzygy uses female photographers and writers, and goes to great lengths to ask female man-on-man fans what they want. The result is a collection of well-written stories illustrated with subtle, expressive and only occasionally wooden photography.

Mixes the best of both worlds, while skirting the pointless and boring debate over whether women prefer visual or written erotica.

Illustrating erotic fiction with original photography is clearly a winner. It mixes the best of both worlds while skirting the pointless and boring debate over whether women prefer visual or written erotica. The stories have strong narratives, diverse settings and interesting characters.

One small issue really lets Syzygy down: like that great cafe that you’re embarrassed to recommend because of its Comic Sans signage and clip-arty menu, Syzygy needs a graphic designer. The cover looks dated and the text and pictures inside seem slapped on the page. Even with the budget restrictions of printing in black and white, a good graphic designer could make Syzygy’s stories and pictures sing.

As Editor Brad Hanon says in his introduction, ‘Rough-edged and ragged it may be, but it’s sexy, it’s original and it’s ours.’ Heres hoping man-on-man fans support this publication, because its a good start.


An inspiring future ahead

Uplift! magazine
United Kingdom
UK£2.50—4.60 depending on your location
Zine editors use a variety of conceptual approaches. Some include meticulously-crafted 3D cut-and-paste inserts; others stick to zine-makings DIY punk roots with basic photocopying. Uplift mixes the innovative and the traditional. A few inclusions, such as a vaguely-written piece of creative writing which says, ‘in Converse high tops I stamp along to the Ramones’, exhibited the simplistic earnestness of the newly-politicised. However, there were also glimpses of more critical and challenging things to come, as seen in the one-page spread Precious things which showcases real-life ladies with favourite material artefacts – in this case, a much-loved pair of sneakers in a glass display case.

A few inclusions exhibited the simplistic earnestness of the newly-politicised. However, there were also glimpses of more critical and challenging things to come.

Uplift is part of a new batch of enthusiastic ladyzines hitting the streets with DIY passion. This is something that, regardless of my qualms, I find encouraging. Id like to see more of Uplift when it has found its feet. Much like that teenager you see at the train station each morning, dressed in a homogenising school uniform but with an array of bright hair colours. You may not remember her name, but you know she has an interesting, and potentially, inspiring future ahead of her.


Tantalising the intellect, without being smug

Granta issue 115: The F-Word Issue
United Kingdom
£12.99

Granta is a British literary quarterly showcasing established writers and photographers alongside new voices. Its engaging, slick and sharp; their memoirs and fiction are poignant without being overly sentimental, and the photography balances documentary and artistic presentations well.

A kept woman questions if, when given the opportunity to focus on your dreams, they will remain as important to you as when you have to fight to make time.

Granta’s feminism issue covers subjects as diverse as the differing valuations of men’s and women’s work, Nazi treatment of the women of the French Resistance and incest. I found myself flicking through initially, but soon became drawn into each piece. Being quite picky about fiction I enjoyed that Granta’s is presented to tantalise the intellect without being overly smug about it. The memoirs are especially engaging – A kept woman was one particularly strong example, questioning if, when given the opportunity to focus on your dreams, they will remain as important to you as they are when you have to fight to make time. I also gratefully noticed that the main characters of the stories were varied in terms of age, ethnicity and social class.

Each piece of writing is compelling and the photographs are well presented. Granta’s feminism issue strokes the mind. I would certainly pick it up again.


The low-rent filth that wouldnt cease and desist

Candy Rain magazine
New York City, USA
US$8 plus shipping

This pint-sized New York-based rag was formerly known as Ligerbeat and dubbed ‘low-rent filth’ and a ‘bible of trash’ by Vice Magazine in a grand gesture of pot calling the kettle black. They’ve just released their second issue as Candy rain, having received a ‘cease and desist’ letter from US teen mag Tiger beat. The wait between issues has been long – nearly two years. Lets hope Issue 3 doesnt keep us waiting so long!

Candy rain doesn’t disappoint on the ‘bible of trash’ front, showing us the key bits of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and several other inspiring gents in spontaneously grainy, flashblind point-and-shoot quality. Meanwhile, it’s clear there’s something more complex behind this ‘low-rent filth’. One particularly memorable spread involves a couple makin love while wearing full-head Pacman masks. The shoot subverts an urban sex legend so that the woman is no longer the butt of the joke. Imagine that.

The shoot subverts an urban sex legend so that the woman is no longer the butt of the joke. Imagine that.

I remember someone saying that feminist pornographer Anna Span’s films are designed to appeal to British working class values and aesthetics – if you don’t belong to that group, you may not ‘get it’. The same can be said of Candy rain – it clearly springs from a world that may be foreign to many and as such, hard to comprehend. It’s unashamedly smutty, but these girls know what theyre doing. They clearly do not give a fuck about giving a fuck, and all power to them.


Like Sassy for grown-ups

Pool boy magazine
Phoenix, USA
US$10 includes shipping within the US, or add $5 for rest-of-world

Pool boy is a nice half-way point between something like Filament and Candy rain. Like Candy rain it’s chocka with man pix – not only erect but with ejaculations as well. Although less, well, smutty, Pool boy similarly does not take itself too seriously. The articles are excellent reading suggestive of an adult version of sadly defunct independent US teen mag Sassy, including a comprehensive guide to choosing your method of contraception and tongue-in-cheek guides such as how to run a male strip club. The range of guys is pretty good, as are the interviews, steamy stories and other fun bits and pieces. Like Candy rain, some of Pool boys layout and colour choices make the content hard to read, but this is a very minor issue.

The range of guys is pretty good, as are the interviews, steamy stories and other fun bits and pieces.

If youre not yet convinced that you need Pool boy, then how about that they send it with free I ♥ cock stickers? Just the thing to attach to friends and loved ones this summer.

Reviews of Candy rain, Pool boy and Syzygy by Alice Archer. Review of Granta by Kitty Stryker. Reviews of Potentia and Uplift by Kat Braybrooke.

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